THERE can hardly be a person around who hasn’t been touched in one way or another by the VW Kombi in its various guises. Those with greying temples will be especially aware of the model known as the Type 2 which was based, amazingly, on the underpinnings of the VW Beetle and which generated emotions by the bucket load, especially in the era of sun and surf in the 60s.
For my part, I vividly recall spending a number of nights in the UK, more than 50 years ago, in the cosy environment of a factory-approved Westfalia camper derivative that proved conclusively how space efficient a one-box design can be!
Now, roll the clock along to 2015/16 and we have the sixth generation of VW’s consistently successful T-Series cruising into market with more safety features, improved comfort and convenience items and better drivability.
The T6, as the new model is known, has a lot to live up to given that in South Africa alone, no fewer than 280 000 transporters have found owners since 1955 compared with a global total of nearly 12 million!
There’s no doubting VW’s intent to ensure the T6 earns a place as a master of all trades as there’s a veritable fleet of derivatives on offer from a single cab pick-up to the truly sumptuous Caravelle.
The pick-up is also offered as a double cab with long wheelbase and then there’s a panel van with seating for up to three up front and the choice of two wheelbases. The Transporter Crew Bus is all things to all people with every engine and transmission option on offer together with a choice of wheelbase.
The famous Kombi name is attached to an eight seater available with two wheelbase options and right at the top is the Caravelle. Both models were made available for open road use on the launch and brief impressions can be found within this article.
In terms of design, there’s no doubting the lineage but detail changes have resulted in a more chiselled, sharper look especially evident from the front. More prominent crease lines echo the brand’s current styling theme as expressed in the Golf 7 and new Passat in particular.
The detail interior execution varies according to model but be under no illusions that the days of simple and spartan designs have long gone as evidenced by the inclusion of smartly-executed dashboards and the inclusion of touchscreen entertainment systems and smartphone connectivity.
Out of sight are the latest safety systems including front air bags, electric belt tensioners, ESP, ABS and Multi-Collision Braking System together with a Fatigue Detection System exclusive to the Kombi and Caravelle.
Niceties such as Hill Hold Control, air con, Bluetooth and electric windows (optional on pick-up) are present and correct across the range while the more passenger-orientated Kombi and Caravelle, the former configured in Trendline andComfortline and the latter inComfortline andHighline spec, get electric mirrors, body colour bumpers and a height adjustable driver’s seat as part of the standard spec.
Powertrains are more familiar as the 2.0 turbo D mills, ranging in output from 75 to 132kW, continue to be offered. The base motor is paired with a 5-speed manual box while the 103kW motor can be coupled to a 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG. The upmarket 132kW bi-turbo engine can only be had with 7-speed dual clutch DSG but a 2WD or 4WD option is offered.
The VW people noted an increase in demand for automated gearboxes (DSG) in commercial applications, doubtless as the system is more resistant to abuse than a traditional clutch and manual gearbox and will therefore be cost effective in the longer run.
Suspension is provided by MacPherson struts up front and semi-trailing arms down the back. Part of the front suspension is attached to a sub-frame to help isolate road imperfections and noise while progressive rate springs, load sensitive dampers and dual anti-roll bars help provide saloon-like handling and ride qualities.
All the “theory” in the world proves nothing if the elements in the mix don’t all gel so VW gave us ample opportunity to sample Kombi and Caravelle derivatives on a run from Port Elizabeth to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape.
Our first experience was in the Highline Caravelle which made an immediate impression with its high gloss paintwork and excellent panel fit. On the subject of paint, there are some really smart colours in the 16-strong palette and as a sop to past memories of the original Type 2, VW is offering a quartet of two-tone paint options but only in exchange for an eye-watering R29 000 as the process is extremely time and labour intensive. Having said that, we all thought the one-off example on display at the overnight venue looked absolutely smashing in a red and white combo.
If you’ve been paying attention, you will have noted that the Caravelle comes only with 132Kw on tap and a 7-speed DSG box. With four adults on board and relatively light luggage, the bi-turbo motor ensured the Caravelle romped up hill and down dale at or (fractionally!) above the open road limit with all the finesse of a well-behaved saloon car.
Isolation of diesel combustion noises is excellent and so too is the deflection of road-induced distractions, quite an achievement given the huge volume of the interior. In fact, the entire travelling experience is akin to being in a saloon car, especially as the DSG gearbox always changes with uncanny smoothness and speed.
Entry and egress from the rear quarters couldn’t be easier thanks to the fitment of two automated sliding doors and once inside, there’s plenty to ogle at given the thoroughly attractive high quality trim and superb fit and finish on show.
Leather swathes all three rows of seats with those up front having a commanding view ahead over a saloon-like dash with high-mounted lever for the DSG box and centrally-positioned Discover Media Navigation unit that’s standard fare on the Highline Caravelle.
Two swivelling, middle row seats with extensive fore and aft range adjustment provide exceptional comfort as well as access to an ingenious folding and sliding central table and there’s a 3-zone Climatronic climate system to keep all pax happy.
The environment in the Caravelle Highline could be described as cosseting and just in case the driver feels like nodding off in all this luxury, a Fatigue Detection system is on hand to keep the eye lids open!
Our return was made in a Trendline Kombi which sacrifices a few of the niceties of the Caravelle but which still manages to provide a comfortable environment notwithstanding, for example, the fitment of a practical rubberised floor covering in place of the super high quality carpet used in the Caravelle. There’s also cloth instead of leather and a full three seater bench in the middle but trim levels are still decent, especially so for what is effectively the entry level people carrier in the range.
This model uses the 103kW turbo D motor which feels entirely adequate and dealt with a serious headwind while easily maintaining the national speed limit. And again, the controls all feel saloon-like and the DSG dual clutch box changes with the same uncanny speed and smoothness. Altogether, a most satisfying driving experience.
I suggest a visit to www.vw.co.za to get the full picture of the specifics on offer but please be aware that all references to model configurations in this article apply to the SA market. Volkswagen Zimbabwe (CFAO Motors) on the Golden Stairs Road (Harare) will be able to fill you in on local plans. Happily, a number of the models mentioned above (from the outgoing T5 range) have been listed in the VW Zimbabwe model range so the T6 upgraded versions are very likely to be made available, even in posh Caravelle guise.
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